DRHOOK- Tough to stomach: Gastritis can make eating a pain

the handsome doctor John Hong

"Can you stomach it?" That's a very good question. 

Having a lot of fortitude is a good thing, but some things are over the top. Enron didn't prepare most people to stomach the alleged crimes of Goldman Sachs. No matter how many episodes of What Not to Wear, I sometimes can't stomach how some ladies actually think they look good before the makeover. (They can't think they look that good if they agree to do the show.) I used to love going upside-down on roller coasters, but I can't stomach it anymore. 

What could be wrong if your stomach hurts?

Gastritis and gastropathy are basically the same thing– stomach cells are injured. Gastritis is worse, though, because there's inflammation. To keep things simple, let's just talk about gastritis in this article. (My gut feeling is it's okay to do that!)

Stomach pain can be pretty vague, like the helpers at Microsoft support centers. A dull or burning pain in the abdomen south of the breastbone is a common symptom. It can even be tender to touch. An empty stomach, eating certain foods, or using tobacco all can make the pain worse, or even cause nausea. The upset stomach can actually feel like hunger, though in a way, aren't we all hungry all the time?

Pills like aspirin and ibuprofen not only can upset the stomach immediately but also can cause gastritis, because these medicines decrease prostaglandin– a chemical that protects the lining of the stomach. So even though some folks think their stomachs are protected if they take one of those medicines on a full stomach, that isn't always the case. Gulp!

Some say I have an infectious personality– ah, as a compliment. You know, "Your energy is so infectious!" H. pylori is a bacterium that can infect the stomach and cause havoc on the stomach cells, from gastritis to ulcers and even cancer. It can be treated with medicines with good results, but it can always return. 

Viral infections that can initially cause vomiting, and diarrhea can leave a present called gastritis. This can last for months, and I've seen plenty of folks end up with an EGD (a scope down the throat and into the stomach). During an EGD, a biopsy can be taken so a pathologist can give a diagnosis. (However, don't feel bad— well, emotionally bad– if the EGD doesn't yield a diagnosis. A high percentage of folks with chronic stomach pains have normal EGDs.)

Koreans seem to have upset stomachs all the time. Maybe it's the spicy foods. (Or maybe because we are such Type A personalities???) Koreans have a problem with gastritis, in particular, stomach cancer. 

Antacids are typically used for gastritis, as well avoidance of offending agents. 

"What? No coffee?" "What? No alcohol!" "What? Give up my tobacco?"

Those are the typical responses I get from many patients who, like most people, hope medicine and time will heal all wounds. 

Probiotics might help, and they are good for your intestines. I like the types that are refrigerated, though they tend to be a little more expensive than the ones on the unrefrigerated shelves. I also love yogurt, because it is filled with probiotics– and tastes so good! 

Let's face it. Sometimes life punches you in the stomach, but I do Pilates. 


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.